Strong core muscles and a flat stomach are desirable for athletes and non-athletes for enhancing health, sports performance, and physical appearance, not just for beach season, but year-round.
When it comes to building core strength and toning the abdomen, the general recommendation is to perform various abdominal and core exercises such as Planks, Crunches and Jackknives. Good nutrition influences reducing fat throughout the body and around the waistline, and getting adequate sleep optimizes fat-burning metabolism.
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This article shows athletes and non-athletes two less conventional ways to simultaneously build core strength and boost fat-burning metabolism—without doing a single Plank, Crunch or other exercise targeting the abs. Core strength is particularly advantageous for athletes to minimize injuries during sports-related bending, reaching, lunging and twisting movements.
The first way to indirectly strengthen core muscles and burn fat is to perform all exercises in every workout for a few weeks from a standing position—e.g., Squats, Lunges, Step-Ups, Farmer's Walks, Rows, Overhead Presses, and Press-Outs. That means no sitting or lying on a bench or using an exercise mat for any exercise.
The second indirect method is to do all exercises on one leg, such as Single-Leg Squats, Single-Leg Rows, etc. This improves balance and core stability, and intensifies each exercise. You will train harder and thereby burn fat throughout your body, including around the stomach.
Below are two challenging full-body workouts: Workout 1, consisting of standing, multi-joint movements; and Workout 2, comprising multi-joint, single-leg exercises. (Multi-joint exercises help build more muscle while strengthening the core and revving metabolism for torching fat, compared to single-joint movements.) Each workout limits rest time between sets and exercises to 30 seconds, enough time to hydrate but serving the additional purposes of intensifying training and further promoting fat reduction.
- Two moderately heavy dumbbells (70-80% RM) for Workout 1
- Two lighter dumbbells (50-60% RM) for Workout 2
- Bench (for Step-Ups)
- Water bottle
- Timer (optional)
- Perform the workouts on non-consecutive days for adequate recovery.
- Do Workout 1, and after a day or two of active recovery, do Workout 2. Alternate the two workouts for two or three weeks.
- Change the exercise sequence in successive workouts for variety.
- Do a dynamic upper- and lower-body warm-up (e.g., Arm Circles and Lunges) before each workout.
- Finish with upper- and lower-body static cooldown stretches for greater flexibility and range of motion.
- Hydrate before, during and after workouts.
- Sets/Reps: 3x10
- Rest between sets: 30 seconds
- Rest between exercises: 30 seconds
- Rep tempo: 1 second for the positive (concentric) phase; 2 seconds for the negative (eccentric) phase.
- Important: Brace your abs during each exercise to maximally strengthen your core and abdominal muscles. Exhale during the positive phase of each rep while pushing your stomach muscles out. Inhale during the negative rep phase and pull your ab muscles in.
Workout 1 (Standing Exercises)
- Hold the dumbbells at your sides and walk with them for 60 seconds.
- Put them down, rest 30 seconds and repeat for two more sets, walking for 60 seconds per set.
Side Lunges & Press-Outs
- Hold one dumbbell horizontally close to your chest.
- Lunge laterally to the right while simultaneously pressing the dumbbell away from your chest.
- Bring the dumbbell back toward your chest while sliding your left foot toward your right.
- Continue lunging laterally right with the Press-Outs for nine more reps.
- Without rest, lunge laterally left with the Press-Outs for 10 reps.
- Rest 30 seconds and do two more sets.
Forward Lunges & Upright Rows
- Hold the dumbbells with a prone grip at the top of your thighs.
- Alternately lunge forward with your right and left foot while simultaneously pulling the dumbbells up toward your chest and shoulders and lowering between each lunge for a total of 10 Lunges (five per foot).
Step-Ups & Overhead Presses
- Place your right foot atop the bench while holding one dumbbell horizontally at shoulder level.
- Press down with your right foot while lifting your left foot off the floor and simultaneously press the dumbbell overhead.
- Lower the dumbbell back to shoulder level while bringing your left foot back to start position.
- Repeat nine more reps and, without rest, do 10 Step-Ups/Overhead Presses with your left foot atop the bench.
Workout 2 (Single-Leg Exercises)
Single-Leg Squats & Upright Rows
- Hold both dumbbells with a prone grip below the thighs while standing on your right leg with your left foot off the floor and knees slightly bent.
- Squat with your right leg while simultaneously pulling the dumbbells up toward your chest and shoulders.
- Lower, then return to start position and repeat nine more reps.
- Without rest, do the Single-Leg Squats/Upright Rows with your left leg and your right foot off the floor.
Single-Leg Squats & Press-Outs
- Hold one dumbbell horizontally close to your chest while standing on your right leg with your left foot off the floor.
- Squat with your right leg and simultaneously press the dumbbell away from your chest.
- Bring the dumbbell back toward your chest while returning to start position.
- After nine more reps, without rest, do the Single-Leg Squats/Press-Outs with your left leg and your right foot off the floor.
Single-Leg Cross Rows
- Stand on your left leg with your right foot off the floor and your knees slightly bent holding a dumbbell in your right hand.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell across your body to your opposite ankle.
- Pull it up and return to start position.
- Do nine more reps and, without rest, repeat the Cross Rows with your left hand while standing on your right leg with your left foot off the floor.
Single-Leg Squats & Overhead Presses
- Hold both dumbbells at shoulder level with a neutral grip while standing on your left leg with your right foot the floor.
- Squat with your left leg and simultaneously press the dumbbells overhead.
- Return to start position and do nine more reps.
- Without rest, do 10 Squats/Overhead Presses standing on your right leg with your left foot off the floor.
Bonus: Doing all exercises upright or on a single leg are weight-bearing movements that optimize bone health for on- and off-the-field activities (helping prevent osteoporosis and broken bones). Standing and single leg movements also generally expend more calories and burn more fat than seated or supine exercises.
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